Georgia 2018 Ballot/Referendum Questions

During the 2018 Legislative Session, there were five resolutions passed for constitutional amendments as well as two bills for statewide referendum questions. These amendments to the Georgia Constitution and statewide referendums will be proposed to voters on the November 2018 general election ballot. Below are the questions as they will appear on the ballot as well as summaries of each amendment. I also included my vote on them (if I was in session at the time they were voted on) and my rationale for why I voted that way.  They are presented for informational purposes only.


Amendment 1

Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund (HR 238)

Ballot Question:

“Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?”


A “YES” vote on this will ensure that up to 80% of the state’s share of revenue from sales tax collected on outdoor sporting goods sold throughout Georgia will go to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund. The effort is projected to raise over $20 million annually over the next ten years and will be used to support and protect clean drinking water, Georgia’s beaches, wildlife, and natural areas; will support and protect natural resources with no new taxes or fees; will benefit Georgia’s economy through supporting Georgia’s $27 billion outdoor recreation industry. Georgia already has established goals of conservation and this would continue to align with those goals.

I voted: Yes.

Although I generally do not like constitutional amendments, this is one I fully support. It does NOT add any new taxes. Instead, it just takes taxes already being collected and creates a secured funding source for our state parks and conservation activities. If you love going on hikes in our beautiful state, enjoy a picnic outdoors, if you like to fish, bird watch, or enjoy nature, this is one you can support too. One last note: this bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Spencer Frye (HD118).


 Amendment 2

State-wide Business Court (HR 993)

Ballot Question:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for state-wide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?”


The intent of a state-wide business court is to remove certain cases from state and superior court dockets, speed up the business court process, and make Georgia more “business friendly”. However, this constitutional amendment does not lay out how this court would function or what determines which cases would get this streamlined, special treatment. That process would have to be figured out by the state after the creation of the business court, should this constitutional amendment be passed. It also removes some accountability of judges because this would remove the ability of people to elect judges. Instead, it gives that power to the Governor and General Assembly. Business court judges will be appointed by the governor to a five-year term, subject to approval by a majority vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a majority vote of the House Committee on Judiciary. They may be reappointed at the end of their term. Initial terms can be provided for by general legislation. Business court judges shall have such qualifications as provided by law. Vacancies in the statewide business court shall be filled by appointment of the governor, subject to approval by a majority vote of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a majority vote of the House Committee on Judiciary.

I voted: No.

First, I like the idea of accountability courts – courts that focus on just one area so they can be more efficient and effective. Second, I do understand that a lot of business litigation (lawsuits between businesses) can be complex in nature and with large amounts of money at stake. So, at first reading, this amendment seems like a good thing. However when I read the language of the bill a few concerns come to mind:

  1. This permits the governor (any governor) to appoint 15 more judges without oversight. It does say there has to be approval by the majority of the judiciary committees of the House and Senate. The members of these committees are themselves appointed by the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor.Membership on any committee is politically motivated and without any oversight. It is arbitrary and at the sole discretion of the Speaker and Lt Governor. In short, there is no guarantee the approvals won’t just be rubber stamps to the governor’s selections.
  2. Although you notice that the summary says the judges are supposed to have the qualifications as provided by law – that law is not yet written – so what qualifications are those? It could be having a certain amount of experience with complex business litigation or it could be having graduated with a four-year degree. It could be having been born a US citizen or it could be any number of things that have nothing directly related to the purpose of the court. So, the Governor could appoint anyone for any reason, such as for a political thank you to an ally.
  3. The language says the judges would serve for five years. And then what? They can be re-approved? Do they have to re-apply or is it automatic? What is the process for this? These judges are not elected like other judges so they have no accountability to the people, just to the governor who appoints them.


Amendment 3  

Forest Land Conservation Use Property Tax Revisions (HR 51)

Ballot Question:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?”


The resolution establishes a new class of property to be known as “qualified timberland property,” which is defined as tangible real property with a primary use for the production of trees to produce timber for commercial uses. The purposes of the new property class are to allow the Department of Revenue to appraise the properties and to establish a separate system to appeal appraisals and determinations related to qualified timberland property. There are over 450,000 private forest landowners and this constitutional amendment would support these owners and timber growers involved in the commercial timber business. It would also serve to try and protect and conserve Georgia’s forests. This amendment had an almost unanimous bi-partisan support in both the Georgia House and Senate and was also supported by the Georgia Forestry Association.

I voted: Yes

This is another amendment set to protect Georgia’s forests. When I first read it, I was concerned it would allow for the cutting of trees for lumber in places that was not permitted before. However, this only gives the property already in use for lumber a special tax designation.


Amendment 4  

Marsy’s Law (SR 146)

Ballot Question:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?”


Amendment 4, known as Marsy’s Law (SR 146), is the companion legislation to SB 127 and proposes an amendment to the Georgia Constitution to provide for the constitutional rights to the victims of crime. The rights for the victims are as follows: reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of court proceedings involving the alleged act; reasonable and timely notice upon the release or escape of the accused; inclusion in any scheduled court proceedings; and the opportunity to be heard at any scheduled proceedings involving the release, plea, or sentencing of the accused. These rights do not: create a cause of action against the State of Georgia; confer the right for a victim to appeal, challenge, or provide standing to become a party to a criminal or delinquency proceeding; nor restrict the inherent authority of the courts to maintain order in the courtroom.

I voted: Yes.

You may have seen my Facebook post about my support for this bill. Though similar versions of Marsy’s law have been introduced in other states where they have been met with some questioning the infringement of the accused’s rights, the Georgia version has undergone significant revision and review to try and balance the needs of all involved. I supported Marsy’s Law this past legislative session after speaking with the ACLU and others to ensure that defendant’s rights would not be lessened in any way as we maintain the safety and dignity of victims beyond just being a witness. This constitutional amendment simply codifies what is already standard Georgia law and practice.


 Amendment 5

 Sales and Use Tax Referendum by a School District (SR 95)

Ballot Question:

“Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?”


A “YES” vote would change the requirements needed for an E-SPLOST (education special purpose local option sales tax) to be put on ballots. It would allow a school (or schools) with the majority of students in the district to request one without needing the approval or agreement of all other smaller schools. There have been incidents in the past where smaller schools have essentially held a larger school “hostage” by not agreeing to an E-SPLOST. The end result is that ALL schools would benefit as the proceeds of the tax are to be split between the districts based either on an agreement made between the districts or on a ratio of enrollment.

I voted: I did not vote as this was a 2017 bill and I was not yet elected. However the majority of Democrats voted Yes for this bill.

We have all heard of SPLOTs – these are special penny taxes that counties approve us to raise funds for a specific category of needs. Athens-Clarke recently passed a T-SPLOST for transportation. We currently have 180 school systems throughout the state of Georgia but only 159 counties. That means that some counties have multiple school systems.  For example, Jackson County has three: Commerce, Jefferson and Jackson County Schools.  It also means that Jackson County has three school boards. This amendment permits a school board to request a referendum to put to a vote to the majority of voters in their district for a penny sales tax to raise funds for all the schools in the district – county and independent.


Referendum A

 Homestead Exemption for Municipalities (HB 820)

Ballot Question:

“Do you approve a new homestead exemption in a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6 percent?”


A “YES” vote supports the measure to provide a homestead property tax exemption in certain municipalities equal to the difference between the home’s assessed value for the current year and the adjusted base year value of the home. Referendum A adds a new section which allows a homestead exemption from the ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in an amount equal to the amount by which the current year assessed value exceeds the adjusted base year value of the homestead.

The “adjusted base year value” is defined as either the lowest base year value or, if available, the previous base year value adjusted annually by 2.6 percent plus any change in value. “Lowest base year value” for exemptions first granted in the 2019 tax year is defined as the lowest among the 2016, 2017, and 2018 valuations multiplied by 1.0423, which is the inflation rate for December 2015 through December 2017.

The homestead exemption is available to residents of municipal corporations that are located in more than one county, that levy a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and has within its boundaries an independent school system. Municipal corporations meeting this description are also exempted from the requirements placed on municipal authorities for notification of millage rate changes in subsections (c) and (e) of O.C.G.A. 48-5-32.1.

I voted: Yes.

** A homestead exemption protects the value of a home from property taxes and creditors following the death of a homeowner spouse. 58 Democrats in the Georgia House voted “YES”. Only one Democrat voted “NO”. Also this only applies to Atlanta.


Referendum B

 Tax Exemption for Homes for the Mentally Disabled (HB 196)

Ballot Question:

“Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?”


The bill is trying to give a tax break to those who are providing financing for a home that will be used by disabled people, but without financial gain for the financer as an incentive. Referendum B proposes expanding the property tax exemption on homes for the mentally disabled to allow for homes which are indirectly owned by limited-liability companies (LLCs) to be included, if the LLC’s parent organization is a qualified 501(c)(3) organization under Internal Revenue Code.

I voted: I did not vote as this was a 2017 bill and I was not yet elected. However the majority of Democrats voted “YES” for this bill and it was co-sponsored by Rep. Spencer Frye (HD118).

When I first read this bill to find out more about it, my biggest concern was that this could be abused. As I looked at the voting history, however, it seems this was a bill that went through some revisions. The final version has a few items of interest that would make me vote FOR this bill.

  1. The language makes it clear that property that is being exempt cannot by property that was only purchased for investment purposes.
  2. The bill also provides a tax break through a homestead exemption for disabled veterans.

** A homestead exemption protects the value of a home from property taxes and creditors following the death of a homeowner spouse.


Constituent Concerns: AR-15 Raffle and Sexual Assault

Recent incidents at two institutions of higher education (UGA in Athens and UNG in North Georgia) brought numerous inquiries in the form of Facebook messages, phone calls, and emails to my desk. I have reached out to both institutions to ask for their statement / clarification regarding these incidents. Their responses are below in their entirety and exactly as they were emailed to me. I put them here for your review to provide full transparency. Feel free to share your thoughts, feedback, and provide any additional questions in the comments section. Thank you.  Deborah


UNG: AR-15 Raffle

I will start with the second incident first since it is briefer in content.

On September 10, 2018 a photo of a flyer was posted on the Facebook page of the UNG’s College Republicans advertising a raffle for an AR-15 weapon. After numerous constituent contacts, I sent President Bonita Jacobs and Campus Director Cyndee Moore an email regarding the flyer. Here is my email and President Bonita’s response.


Sent: 9/11/18, 8:38 am

Good morning President Bonita and Dir Moore:

Can you confirm if the following story is true that was posted on Facebook?

Thank you,

Rep Gonzalez








Received: 9/11/18, 1:40 pm

Rep. Gonzalez,

Yes, I learned about that earlier today. Below is our official statement. Know that I am happy to discuss further if you wish!

I’ve been in meetings all day. Sorry for the delay in responding!



The College Republicans at the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega Campus are conducting a gun raffle to raise funds for their organization. While the drawing will take place this evening on campus, the weapon will not be on campus or handled by anyone on campus. The raffle winner will be provided a credential that they present at the gun shop to redeem their raffle winnings. The gun store will perform any compliance requirements for the transfer of ownership of the weapon, including a background check.  

The student group is a recognized student organization at the University of North Georgia. The group was advised and has followed applicable laws related to raffles, guns on campus, and transfer of ownership for legal weapons.

While the group has not violated any University policy or law, we recognize the sensitivity related to this type of weapon and gun violence. As a public university, we believe a dynamic learning environment requires open dialog of factual information, critical thinking skills, and respect for viewpoints different than our own. As educators, this is one of the most valuable lessons we can teach our students.

 This situation presents an opportunity for us to initiate conversations with our student affairs leaders and student organizations about future activities to ensure that they are consistent with the educational goals of the institution.

Bonita C. Jacobs


University of North Georgia


Sent: Sept. 12, 2018 9:13 am

My response back to President Jacobs:

Thank you so much Bonita for your quick response and the clarification. You can imagine the emails and messages I received from my constituents who were quite concerned that this type of weapon would be on your campus. Although I do not condone the raffling of a weapon of this nature (true to form of any weapon but that is a personal opinion) I am pleased to hear that it was a voucher and not the actual weapon to be given. The ultimate concern is one of safety for all those on the campus – students, faculty, staff, administration, even visitors and vendors.

Thank you again for your leadership,

Rep. Gonzalez


UGA: Essay for Sexual Assault

On August 6, 2018 WSB-TV had a report entitled “UGA student accused of sexual assault put on probation, told to write essay” by Wendy Halloran. I received links and concerns from constituents about this incident. I reached out to UGA.  What follows is the correspondence between me and UGA personnel.

Sent: August 6, 2018, 10:43 am

Good morning Toby and Griff:

I hope you had a good summer. As the new school year begins a news article is making its way around and I am getting emails, calls and messages from constituents. I’d appreciate a meeting this week to discuss the matter so I am brought up to date regarding how to respond. I am currently available the following: 

Tuesday, 8/7 between 10 – noon; 2 – 5 pm

Wed, 8/8 between 1 – 3 pm

Thursday, 8/9 9:30 am or 2 pm

This is a specific request from me, but I am copying my other elected officials in the Athens delegation should they wish to join us when we set the day and time based on the above mentioned.

Your prompt response to a day and time would be greatly appreciated so I can adjust my schedule accordingly.

Warm regards,

Rep Gonzalez

Sidenote: The other Athens delegation elected officials copied on this original email were: Rep Spencer Frye (HD118), Rep. Jonathan Wallace (HD119), Senator Frank Ginn (SD47), and Senator Bill Cowsert (SD46).


Received: August 6, 2018, 2:48 pm

Rep. Gonzalez,

Thanks for reaching out. Griff and I are on the road this week, and we’ll be together and available for a call early on Wednesday between 8 and 9:30am.  Would it possible for us to connect then?



 Toby Carr

Associate Vice President for Government Relations

Director of State Relations


Telephone Conference Call: August 8, 2018, 8:30 am

A series of questions were proposed that UGA would follow up with me on.


Email Received: 9/13/18; 4:33 pm

Rep. Gonzalez,

 We worked with the appropriate UGA units and USG, and please see the answers to your questions below. Please let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts on this issue.

 A description of the overall process for sexual misconduct investigations at UGA from the reporting through finding and appeals. 

  • The University’s process for sexual misconduct investigations involving UGA students is governed by Board of Regents (BOR) Policy. BOR Policy provides that Complainants of sexual misconduct who wish to file a report with the institution should notify a Responsible Employee or the Title IX Coordinator. Responsible Employees informed about sexual misconduct allegations involving any student should not attempt to resolve the situation, but must notify and report all relevant information to the Coordinator as soon as practicable. Once a complaint is made, the complainant, respondent and alleged victim (where applicable) should receive written information about support services, such as counseling, advocacy, housing assistance, academic support, disability services, health and mental services, and legal assistance, available at the student’s institution. Interim measures may be undertaken at any point after the institution becomes aware of an allegation of sexual misconduct and should be designed to protect the alleged victim and the community. Before an interim suspension is issued, the institution must make all reasonable efforts to give the respondent the opportunity to be heard, consistent with the provisions in BOR Policy 4.6.5, Standards for Institutional Student Conduct Investigation and Disciplinary Proceedings(see attached). Both the alleged victim and respondent, as parties to the matter, shall have the opportunity to use an advisor (who may or may not be an attorney) of the party’s choosing at the party’s own expense for the express purpose of providing advice and counsel, pursuant to the provisions of BOR Policy 4.6.5.
  • The alleged victim(s) and respondent(s) have the option to end informal resolution discussions and request a formal process at any time before the terms of an informal resolution are reached. However, matters resolved informally shall not be appealable. Allegations of sexual misconduct may be resolved informally, without a determination of misconduct, if all of the following are met:
    • When complainant(s) and respondent agree to an informal resolution;
    • When the initial allegation could not result in expulsion;
    • When the complainant(s) and respondent(s) agree to the terms of the informal resolution; and
    • When the investigator concludes that informal resolution is in the best interest of the parties and the institution’s community.
  • Efforts will be made to complete the investigation within a reasonable timeframe, which will be determined based upon the allegations, availability of witnesses and/or evidence, etc. in a particular case. When the timeframe will extend past the reasonable timeframe, the parties will be informed of the delay and the reason for the delay. The investigator shall keep the parties informed of the status of the investigation.
  • All sexual misconduct investigations involving a student respondent, whether overseen by the institution’s Coordinator or the System Director, shall follow the investigation process set forth in BOR Policy 4.6.5.
  • All sexual misconduct hearings, sanctions, and appeals involving a student respondent, whether overseen by the institution’s Coordinator or the System Director, shall follow the investigation process set forth in BOR Policy 4.6.5.  All sexual misconduct adjudication involving an employee respondent, shall be addressed utilizing the institution’s employment policies and procedures. 

The UGA sexual misconduct policy

  • Effective August 14, 2017, alleged sexual misconduct, including any form of gender or sex-based discrimination or harassment, perpetrated by a University of Georgia student will be addressed pursuant to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents’ Student Sexual Misconduct Policy (Section 6.7), which is attached to this email.
  • Allegations of sexual misconduct not covered by the BOR Student Sexual Misconduct Policy are governed by the University’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy.

The USG sexual misconduct policy

  • It is attached as Board of Regents Policy.

Were the policies above the ones that were in place when the incident recently reported by WSB occurred?  If not, please provide those policies.

  • We cannot comment on a specific case, but WSB’s recent report refers to an incident occurring in the summer of 2017.  The BOR Sexual Misconduct Policy became effective August 14, 2017, and was applied to any investigations pending as of the effective date.

What mechanism exists to be sure that the three-person panel followed the correct procedures and policies?  Does this happen during an appeal?

  • The Office of Student Conduct oversees the hearings to ensure that the correct policies are followed during the hearing. The Office of Student Conduct does not weigh in on decisions but ensures that the panel follows all applicable procedures and policies. The Title IX Coordinator also sits in on hearings to ensure that all policies and procedures are followed correctly. Appeals are referred to the Dean of Students, who ensures policies are followed. One of the grounds for appeal under BOR Policy is “to allege a procedural error within the hearing process that may have substantially impacted the fairness of the hearing, including but not limited to whether any hearing questions were improperly excluded or whether the decision was tainted by bias.” The Dean of Students corresponds with the Title IX Coordinator during appeals to ensure all policies are followed correctly.

 Several items related to the three-person panel:

  • How are panelists selected?
    • The University sends out a campus-wide email on an as-needed basis to ask faculty and employees to volunteer to participate as panelists. The University communicates with faculty and staff who volunteer or are nominated, explains the expectations of panelists, and provides training. UGA wants panelists to represent a cross section of the campus.
  • What are the qualifications for being considered to be a panelist?
    • Pursuant to BOR Policy 4.6.5, only faculty and staff can serve on panels hearing sexual misconduct cases.  To be a panelist, UGA faculty and staff members must be in good standing without disciplinary complaints. Panelists must also be individuals who have not taken an advocacy position in favor of victims or accused.
  • How are they trained?  Please provide an agenda of training.
    • Before they can serve as panelists, UGA faculty and staff must complete comprehensive annual training on: Title IX, the Clery Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, USG policies governing student conduct, UGA’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy, the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy, and the formal hearing process.
  • How often is training updated, reviewed or refreshed?
    • The University holds the training annually and makes adjustments when necessary.
  • Description of number of panelists and how often they change?
    • There are currently 18 panelists. Panelists must undergo annual training to serve.  Panels for each case consist of 3 members, selected based on availability, preferably with at least one man and one woman on each panel.

 Please review the joint House-Senate higher education committee meeting that happened early during the 2018 legislative session regarding campus safety and HB 51.  References to data reporting were apparently made during the hearing, with the discussion relating to the “incomplete” data.  Is there more up-to-date data that can now be reported?  If so, please provide it.

  • From USG: The institutions would have data regarding the reports that have been filed with their Title IX coordinators and the various types of complaints that have arisen on each campus.
  • The UGA Title IX coordinator has received 93 complaints of student sexual misconduct since 2012. Below is a breakdown of the total number of student sexual misconduct complaints by calendar year:
    • 2018 – 18
    • 2017 – 12
    • 2016 – 19
    • 2015 – 16
    • 2014 – 16
    • 2013 – 8
    • 2012 – 4
    • Total – 93

 Is there an existing task force at UGA or within a UGA unit that is looking at sexual misconduct?

  • While there is no formal task force, numerous UGA units and administrators continually review our policies, procedures, training, education, prevention efforts, and support resources relating to sexual misconduct. For example, the University has a Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) coordinated through the Equal Opportunity Office that meets once a month to discuss issues related to Title IX.  The University provides a number of programs and services to promote prevention and to support students. Here is a link to information about the services provided:

 Is there a standing process or procedure for considering changes to the sexual misconduct policy?

  • Because student sexual misconduct is governed by BOR policy, any changes to applicable policies must come from the BOR.



 Toby Carr

Associate Vice President for Government Relations

Director of State Relations

198 Waddell Street

Athens, GA 30602


Documents provided by UGA attached to email:

USG Standards for Institutional Student Conduct Board of Regents Policy

Board of Regents Policy


Sent: Sept. 14, 2018, 3:18 pm

Thank you Toby – which were the “appropriate UGA units and USG” you worked with? I will be posting this response on a blog to answer my constituents’ questions. Thank you.

 Rep Gonzalez


Received: Sept 16, 2018, 8:24 pm

Sure. Office of Student Conduct and the Equal Opportunity Office at UGA. Legal affairs at USG.



Toby Carr

Associate Vice President for Government Relations

Director of State Relations